International PEN protests the ten- and nine-month prison sentences handed down to L’interprète editor Nsimba Embete Ponte and his assistant Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu, respectively, on November 27, 2008, for allegedly “insulting the head of state.” As the two men have been detained since March, the sentences mean that Ntondo Nzovuangu should be released later this month and Embete Ponte in January 2009. PEN believes that their lengthy detention and convictions are in direct violation of their right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the national constitution and international human rights law. PEN calls for the convictions to be quashed and for both men to be released immediately and unconditionally.

Background Information

On November 27, 2008, N'Djili court in Kinshasa found Embete Ponte and Ntondo Nzovuangu guilty of "insulting the head of state” on the basis of a series of articles published in February 2008 on President Joseph Kabila’s health, and sentenced them to ten and nine months in prison respectively. The court's decision was only made public a week later.

Taking into account the time spent in detention since March 2008, Ntondo Nzovuangu is expected to be released later in December and Embete Ponte in January 2009. The ruling reportedly came after more than a month of deliberation, in violation of Congolese law which states that courts must hand down judgments within eight days.
 
According to the local press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger (JED), the sentencing of the two journalists is an attempt to cover up a blunder by the national intelligence agency and to justify their lengthy detentions.

Embete Ponte was arrested by plainclothes policemen on March 7, 2008, and detained at a National Intelligence Agency (ANR) building in Kinshasa. He has reportedly been receiving threats since publishing the series of articles on the president’s health in February. His assistant Ntondo Nzovuangu was arrested by police at his home on March 29.

After being held incommunicado for 90 and 68 days respectively, on June 6, Embete Ponte and Ntondo Nzovuangu were officially charged with "publishing false news, threatening state security and insulting the president" in connection with a series of articles questioning the president’s health. They were refused bail, and were transferred the next day to the Centre pénitentiaire et de rééducation de Kinshasa (CPRK, formerly known as Makala) prison in Kinshasa. The trial began on August 15.
 
Both men were denied access to legal or medical assistance or family visits during their detention by the ANR. Embete Ponte has reportedly suffered health problems while imprisoned.

Write A Letter

  • Protesting the ten- and nine-month prison sentences handed down to L'interprète editor Nsimba Embete Ponte and his assistant Davin Ntondo Nzovuangu, respectively, on November 27, for allegedly “insulting the head of state” in a series of articles published in February 2008 on President Joseph Kabila’s health;
  • Noting that the journalists’ detention since March 2008 and their subsequent conviction to be in violation of their right to express their opinion freely in print, guaranteed by Articles 22-24 of the DRC Constitution, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the DRC is signatory;
  • Calling for the conviction of Embete Ponte and Ntondo Nzovuangu to be quashed and for their immediate and unconditional release.

Send Your Letter To

Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Mutombo Bakafwa Nsenda
Minister of Justice and Human Rights
Salutation: Dear Minister
 
Prison Director
M. Kitungwa Killy Dido, Director
Centre Pénitentiaire et de Rééducation de Kinshasa
Salutation: Dear Sir
 
Via
The Democratic Republic of the Congo Permanent Mission to the United Nations
886 United Nations Plaza, Suite 511
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 319-8232
E-mail: acpresse@gmail.com

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representatives for the Democratic Republic of Congo in your country if possible.
 
Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN if sending appeals after January 15, 2009: ftw[at]pen.org